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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Paperback Book
Knopf Canada
December, 2011
$18.95 CAD
Banyen's Description: 
The prolific, well-informed, and passionate Karen Armstrong (The Case for God, etc.) writes a somewhat different book here, stemming from her winning the TED Lectures prize which provided her with the means to promote an idea worth spreading: The Charter for Compassion (see

This is a book with an agenda: we all ought to be more compassionate, and here’s how. So instead of being her usual somewhat academic teacher of religious history, in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life she is more of a personal spiritual teacher. That task, and corresponding tone (“Be patient with yourself during this meditation”), is not her long suit. Still, this slightly self-help-y book is deeply grounded in what Armstrong knows, and presents well: the core teachings of all religions that can make us better, more compassionate humans.

The twelve steps Armstrong suggests begin with “Learn About Compassion” and close with “Love Your Enemies.” In between, she takes up “compassion for yourself,” mindfulness, suffering, sympathetic joy, the limits of our knowledge of others, and “concern for everybody.” She suggests concrete ways of enhancing our compassion and putting it into action in our everyday lives, and provides, as well, a reading list to encourage us to “hear one another’s narratives.” Throughout, Armstrong makes clear that a compassionate life is not a matter of only heart or mind but a deliberate and often life-altering commingling of the two.

The former nun pulls ideas and references from religions Eastern and Western with aplomb and respect for all sources. This counter to the “religion-is-homicidal-and-superstitious” school of invective passing for thought is well-informed, welcome, and practical.

Armstrong has delivered something people badly want: a way to acknowledge that faith can be taken seriously as a response to deep human yearnings without needing to subscribe to the formality of organized belief.” —The Economist

Publisher’s Description: 

Karen Armstrong explains how to practise the religion of compassion that her last books have preached.

In November 2009 Armstrong and TED launched The Charter of Compassion, which states that "We call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings even those regarded as enemies." To date, it's been signed by over 48,000 people on the Web, including such figures as The Dalai Lama and Queen Noor, Dave Eggers and Meg Ryan. ( Out of the ideals of that Charter has come this humane, accessible, indispensable short book for our times.

From the Hardcover edition.

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